Murkowski Questions IHS Director Nominee about Alaska Concerns

Highlights Health and Sanitation Needs, 105(l) Leasing Issues

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a Nomination Hearing this week to consider Rear Admiral (RADM) Michael D. Weahkee to be Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) raised a range of topics to RADM Weahkee, including health care and sanitation needs in Alaska and the issue of a federal mandate for payments of leasing costs under section 105(l) of the Indian Self Determination Act when tribal facilities are used to operate IHS programs.

 IHS HEaring Snip 1 - 12.13.19

Click here for video of Senator Murkowski discussing sanitation and health care issues

Senator Murkowski began her remarks by noting that many rural Alaska Native communities still lack even the most basic sanitation, noting the negative impact on public health for thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

“In far too many of our rural communities, we have communities that lack any level of basic sanitation needs being met. We have no running water. We have no sewer facilities. And when you do not to have clean water to drink or to bathe in or to clean your clothes or your home, disease is allowed to accumulate,” said Senator Murkowski. “We have issues. Whether they are respiratory issues or communicable diseases that are shared – I think we recognize that these are a key and integral part to how you’re able to better provide for the healthcare needs of so many in my part of the country up in Alaska.”

Rear Admiral Weahkee gave his full commitment to working with partner agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to combine resources that they received to help meet needs across Indian Country.

In personal visits that I have had the opportunity to make in Shishmaref and Wales, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the limited facilities, the solid waste concern, the PASS system in some communities that’s been used as an innovative way to address sanitation. You definitely have my commitment for scanning the landscape for innovative solutions and to best use the Indian Health Service’s resources to best serve the needs throughout Indian Country,” said RADM Weahkee. “As I have heard you say many times: we should not be relying on honey buckets and we should really take a public health approach to meet these needs.”

Senator Murkowski also raised the importance of proactively working to understand and address the issue of leases under section 105(l) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA).

“This is something that I’m going to continue to press on and you’ve given me your assurance that you are going to be working on that but I think that is something that we all need to be very aware that this could literally take over our IHS budget if we don’t have a better understanding,” said Senator Murkowski.